A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

31 August 2017 — 1742 mdt

A new sheriff for the Flathead & a judicial election in Whitefish

Will Flathead County elect a new sheriff in 2018? My sources report that incumbent sheriff Chuck Curry plans to retire (that could change). As of August’s end, Keith Stahlberg, a Flathead deputy sheriff with the rank of sergeant, and former deputy sheriff Calvin Beringer, had filed C-1-A forms with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices. Stahlberg filed on 24 June, Beringer on 16 August. Filing a C-1-A allows a candidate to start raising campaign money before the 11 January 2018 opening of filing for office.

The domain name stahlbergforsheriff.com was registered on 15 July. beringerforsheriff.com was registered on 10 August. Both were registered by proxy to hide the owner’s name, but there’s no doubt these are the candidates’ future campaign websites.

Beringer appears to be the same Calvin Beringer who is leader with the local chapter of Act for America, a organization that human rights groups consider hard core anti-Muslim.

Whitefish municipal judge candidate Kristi Curtis
says Montana law requires a full-time judge

Update, 2215 MDT. The InterLake reports that Whitefish municipal judge candidate Tom Tornow has withdrawn from the ballot.

One of her opponents, Tom Tornow, believes a part-time judge is all Whitefish needs. On 27 June, I took Tornow to task for that and a few other things. Curtis, who now has a campaign website, also has doubts about a half-time municipal judge. Here’s what she says about the issue:

Section 3-6-106 of the Montana Code Annotated states: “Sessions of court — departments. (1) The municipal court must be in continuous session from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on every day except nonjudicial days.” Typically, nonjudicial days are holidays. [Link added by Flathead Memo.]

I question the data relied upon by the candidate to support his belief this is a part-time position. As the Whitefish City prosecutor for the last two years, I am aware of the increased caseload since 2006, when one of my opponents had his last contact with the court. For example, in the two years I have been the prosecutor the number of DUI cases has doubled. DUIs are typically the most time intensive cases, and the ones most likely to go to trial.

Further, real property taxes are based on property values and mill levies. The hours a judge works has no effect on taxes. While the wage paid to a judge could potentially reduce the budget, which is funded through property taxes, that decrease would not result in any property tax reduction.

I submit the proposal of a part-time position is a ruse to allow the candidate to pursue his ongoing private practice, thereby depriving the citizens of Whitefish of a committed and focused judge. If elected, I would commit 100% to the position, including personal attendance in the courtroom to review search warrant applications for DUI forced blood draws at any time of the day or night, Saturday and Sundays included!

This could be a lively, expensive, and potentially divisive, judicial campaign, and further proof that an election is a terrible way to select a judge.

Flathead Memo will monitor this election, but will not endorse a candidate.